FORT WALTON BEACH – On the hardwood, the message of following your shot is a common teaching tool coaches harp on.
On the soccer pitch, though, it’s a command not heard too often. But as Niceville’s Miranda O’Neil proved Thursday night against Choctaw, maybe it should be.
Proving the teaching point has its merits across several athletic venues, the senior followed up a missed penalty kick in the 15th minute and netted a right-footer inside the right post to lift Niceville to a 1-1 tie with Choctaw.
“She wasn’t too happy with the first attempt, but she stayed composed and scored,” said Niceville coach Michael Denton, who noted that Choctaw is much improved not only from last year, but from the team the Eagles defeated 4-0 on Nov. 6.
The heads-up play followed a strong, two-handed save from Choctaw goalkeeper Sam Shaw, who couldn’t corral the shot attempt in cold, windy conditions. The Indians’ defense was slow to react, giving O’Neil plenty of time to trap the deflection, dribble toward the goal and beat a still-trying-to-recover Shaw in a one-on-one situation.
“I know the goalie personally, and I didn’t expect her to make that save,” said O’Neil, who had two goals in the Eagles’ win over the Indians earlier in the year. “I was able to recover and score, but that was horrible.”
The “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” theme carried over to Choctaw, which missed its first 10 shots – including a couple of open goal opportunities – before Kayla Douglas netted a left-footer inside the right post in the 68th minute to knot the score.
The goal backed up a solid effort from Choctaw’s defense, which, aside from the two shots in that penalty kick sequence, allowed only two shots on goal. Anchoring the back-four were Paige Wooley, Rachyl Sutton, Sydney Oliver and Britta Thomas, a crew which was nearly given a lead to protect just three minutes into the game.
The play in question came on a well-timed, perfectly-placed through ball from Dani Weyer to Maggie VanHusan just outside the right side of the box. VanHusan was initially blocked by Niceville’s Emily Murray, but the deflection found her feet. The attempt on the open net, however, sailed high.
VanHusan would get a shot at redemption on the 67th minute, but a right-footer on another open goal went wide left.
But Douglas would respond just seconds later, breaking up a shutout from an Eagles’ defense anchored by Cassie Wills, Julie Duchock, Savannah Boswell and Elana Pete. Both teams had 12 shots each, and in goal Murray had five saves and Shaw had seven.
With the tie, Niceville moved to 13-3-3 on the year while Choctaw is now 11-4-3.